Tants and Maysele
Tants and Maysele* for Violin, Cello, Clarinet, and Piano was written in the early fall of 1981 for the Aeolian Chamber Players. The leader of the Aeolians, violinist Lewis Kaplan, asked me to write a piece with a distinct Jewish profile and I was happy to undertake the assignment. In past years I had written a number of compositions that sought to synthesize contemporary aesthetic and technical thought with musical elements of clearly identifiable Jewish character. Turns of melody, dance rhythms, cadential figures, typical sonorities of an instrumental or ensemble nature, emerging from a body of various musics historically connected with Jewish life, were important elements in those pieces I intended to be characteristically Jewish. That much of the material was close at hand and second nature to me will come as no surprise to those who know that my father, Lazar Weiner, was an eminent composer of Jewish music, particularly eloquent in the realm of art song and the liturgy.
Tants and Maysele uses as its basic material musical fragments of Jewish character; dances, melodic and harmonic turns, phrase structures, and gestural inflections. If these elements are conceived as being “realistic” – (as a recognizable object in a painting is considered “realistic”) – then the compositional process first presents, then transforms those objects into surreal or abstract shapes, some of which remain substantial, others of which evaporate in a haze of mysticism or of nostalgic speculation.
In the Yiddish language Tants means “Dance.” Maysele means “Little Story.” The titles are taken from a pair of piano pieces my father dedicated to me when I was two years old.
Tants and Maysele, in turn, is dedicated to him. It was the last new composition of mine he heard before his death early in 1982.
*This piece is also referred to as Tanz and Máissele, which is its Ashkenazic spelling.